- The Subject
- The Proper Atmosphere
- The Creation of an Atmosphere
- The Conclusion
- The Links
A mission consists of multiple elements, two are atmosphere and gameplay. An editor should keep both factors in his mind if he's trying to make a good missions. In this first article I will focus on the first element: atmosphere. The atmosphere in a mission is set by the editor's scripts, cutscenes and scenery placed in a mission and interpreted in some way by the player. An example, if your mission involves an undercover operation you want a tight atmosphere and especially ambiance. There is no tension in a mission without patrols, noises and a gripping story. A mission involving a tank battle requires less effort to create the proper atmosphere, as the ongoing battle will provide just the right atmosphere for the mission. Often, missions which require a good ambiance in my eyes have only a moderate one and could do with lots of juicing up. This will increase the ambiance and atmosphere of a mission and is therefore likely to increase the overall mission enjoyment.
With this article I want to improve an editor's feeling for having the proper atmosphere in a mission. The second part of the article will concentrate on creating the atmosphere, what tricks, do's and do not's are out there, what can we learn. Ultimately this should lead to better results, more enjoyable missions for the community to play.
The Proper Atmosphere
Every mission is different and one missions may require another type of ambience then another. There are several factors that decide what kind of ambience is required, and not every mission is dependent on the same amount of atmosphere.
Before discussing more mission related matter, it is good to keep into consideration the difference between a singleplayer (SP) and multiplayer (MP) atmosphere. The major component is that one is played with many humans, the other with just one. As the artificial intelligence (AI) isn't really made for interaction with humans other than on a superficial scale, it is quite evident that there are large differences between SP and MP missions. Let me start with two illustrative examples of a common difference in SP and MP missions.
You walk through a dense forest with multiple teammates. Wearily you place step by step, expecting a major confrontation every second. After one minute of silence you switch to 4x speed and get to your destination a bit faster only to find yourself killed - no problem as you can just reload.
You walk through the same dense forest with only one teammate. You are on a reconnaissance patrol together with a soldier. On TeamSpeak the wildest of conversations take place, you talk about the country, weapons and other soldiers. During all this you proceed with caution and once contact is made, you manage to get out alive with your teammate.
These two examples should illustrate the need for a better ambience, or atmosphere in SP mode. There are no human players to have a conversation with, no saving or loading and you want to impress your fellow Homo sapiens whereas impressing the AI will be on the bottom of your list. As the atmosphere in MP missions is mostly created by your human teammates and possibly a good choice of music - the singleplayer experience depends a lot more on your imagination and talents for the proper ambience of a mission. Some might argue that MP missions are harder due to scripting problems and sessions to consider, they are true, but enjoyable are one hell of an adventure too.
Not all SP missions are the same, for example one can have an infantry, tank or helicopter mission. All provide different gameplay, all categories have their enthusiasts. What you should remember is that every single one of them require a slightly different touch to it. Think of it like this, being with the infantry means that you'll serve with thousands of others, man next to man - man versus man. The player is most of the times only one piece of the puzzle. Helicopter missions, in which the player is a combat pilot, are different. In a way the player is a giant, he has an extremely well armed machine under his control and the atmosphere could focus on that. But, there is more to take into consideration.
While there is a big difference between the categories as mentioned above, there can be variance between the difference. One infantry-based missions could be about leading a platoon of soldiers into combat while another might focus on a sniper and his spotter behind enemy lines. It is common sense that both differ greatly from each other and both should be treated in separate ways to some end. Keep in mind that the atmosphere of a mission decides how the missions plays, feels and eventually scores. It is the editor that holds the rope, he can decide what to do with a mission. He decides what the feeling of the player should be, is the sniper team an established one or are they rookies trying to prove themselves. Are they looked down on by regulars, or are they considered gods in another way. All is in the hands of the editor. Later in this article different techniques and pointers will be given to help decide what is best for a mission, what might improve a mission.
The Creation of an Atmosphere
As editing involves so many options, so many categories of missions and even more differences in play styles and choices of the author I won't discuss every possible situation. It would take up a lot of time to define the basic and more detailed categories and there would be a number overlaps. Therefore, I will try to give numerous elements that make up the ambience and atmosphere of a mission.
A good start is half the job done
It is wrong to assume that atmosphere and ambience of a mission are set only in the intro and actual mission of a scenario. The overview for example serves as a warming up for the mission, it is there to draw people into playing a mission. Both the picture and text on an overview set a global atmosphere. If you mention that nasty Charlie is all over Plei Mei and you are to defend it - everyone has their expectations of a mission, in this case they expect a hard fight against a hard and vicious enemy. As editor, you'll have to ensure that the atmosphere globally set in the overview is carried into the mission. There it should last or a brilliant switch of atmosphere should take place. Ideally the overview should have motivating text that covers the mission's atmosphere and doesn't overdo it.
The briefing is another element sometimes overlooked in setting the atmosphere of a mission. Writing the notes section gives you the option to manipulate the player, you can either mislead him or let the player move into the character's mind by saying emotionally touching things. It is not always that such a move is a guaranteed success, but you can at least try. A realistic briefing sets a different atmosphere then Uncle John writing you a letter. In the former you will expect a realistic mission, plenty of forces to fight with - support and all the little bits that are required to make the mission feel realistic. You might even drive the player into playing the mission realistically. Whereas the latter option, Uncle John prompting you take the shotgun out for a tiny bit of shooting, will set a totally different more loose atmosphere for a funny chaotic mission.
It is the same with the gear selection, map markers and objectives you hand out to the player. Having a broad selection of weapons means that the player will focus less on the story - less credibility is giving to it as such a mass of weapons is rarely available in real life. This is even more true if you set the atmosphere for a realistic mission and have a weapon selection with the most exotic of weapons. Or pretend the player is severely outnumbered and low on ammo, but give him access to a Javelin Launcher with dozens of rockets. You won't be the first to miss out on this one, especially for realism seekers a weapon selection can mess up a lot. Give it the attention it deserves in the case of a Special Forces mission at night where stealth is required. Limit the gear, set the atmosphere. Do the opposite with mission mostly just about fun, supply Squad Automatic Weapons, launchers, shotguns and hunting rifles to give the player an idea of this ludicrous mission's atmosphere. It will help improve the atmosphere, but the impact depends on the category and style of the mission in question.
Markers and objectives tend to be linked to each other, if one is realistic make sure the other has the same amount of realism to it. Try to leave a bit of freedom to the player in the objectives if a real life situation would allow for the same degree of freedom. Don't overly restrict the player as the game is supposed to promote freedom of movement and restricting with objectives could spoil the atmosphere or more likely the gameplay of a mission. Most important is to be credible when the ambience you want to set requires it.
So, don't forget to devote some of your editing time towards the written elements of a mission. The objectives, overview and overall briefing are great for setting a global or raw atmosphere - make use of it especially in realistic missions where details matter most. However, a mission without realism doesn't equal a mission without an enjoyable atmosphere. On the contrary, it is perfectly possible to have a great spooky atmosphere with zombies, totally unrealistic - yet totally cool.
MP missions are often more enjoyable due to a better ambience when playing with your friends. While it isn't possible to make the AI human to that degree, there are options to mimic human feelings. Most of these are aimed at making the AI more human like, others add a more nature feeling to the world - something that shouldn't be overlooked either.
Important in editing is to keep an eye out for adding atmosphere increasing factors such as voices and dialogue. Most intros have a lot of text, but lack custom voices that can be associated with the text. By adding voices you increase the atmosphere by a lot. It is however not only the voices, but also enjoyable and spellchecked texts that make an intro or mission more enjoyable. With voices you can add character development, every unit gets a voice and thereby is made unique. As an editor you want the player to care for his teammates. By providing dialogue, custom voices and maybe a short introduction to your teammates you can improve the team feeling. A player should ideally not be forced to keep someone alive, but he should also want to keep him alive because of the unique personality of that one person. If you succeed in doing this, the atmosphere is lifted greatly.
When editing, keep in mind what would happen in real life situations. It is alright to have a long chopper ride as insertion, but if you do so you'll have to ensure that the player enjoys it. Add some dialogue between a few characters keep the player involved. Don't make him use 3rd person view to take a look at the deep blue sea for more than a minute. If he has to, 4x speed will be used and that is a good way to spoil the mission's atmosphere. It shows that the mission has shortcomings, there are too many dull moments. Radio messages can also be exchanged, cutscenes can be employed while a player is carried towards his objective.
Implementing RPG elements in your missions can make the player more involved too, provide a better atmosphere and sometimes even gameplay. One potential element is a dialogue with options, where the player can choose what he says to the AI. By doing so the mission will feel more natural, and the player has a large freedom which often makes the mission more enjoyable and true to life which leads to a better mission atmosphere. Then there is the world in a mission, there should be birds and other animals. Maybe the wind when the player is near the sea, all ambient sounds that make sense should be added at one point. Especially in missions where the ambience of the environment is important, in horror style missions, an editor should add such sounds. It prevents the player from using 4x speed, keeps him on his guard. The type of sounds used should determine the feeling of the player, some should sharpen his senses, others could help him relax. ArmA and OFP both have a lot of ambient sounds available in the editor, like barking dogs or singing birds. Make sure you use them as they all tend to add bits and pieces to the mission.
One easy way of getting dynamic sounds in a mission, scripted ones - not those found in the editor, is the following. First have multiple sounds ready, then create a game logic (or multiple ones) and place it/them close to the player using a relative positioning command. Use a script to keep track of where the player is, if he's in an urban environment, play sounds of barking dogs. If the player is 400m above sea level (check ASL position) play 3D sounds of crying wolfs. That will create a really special atmosphere tied in with the environment the player is located in.
In some missions a big all out battle is the subject or part of one of the objectives. Try to make the AI as smart as possible in these situations, where the player will feel that they contribute to the battle. Let them help complete the player in his objectives, the player shouldn't feel alone in such a mission other then when you want him to feel so. This process of making a player feel part of something often starts in the introduction (intro) of a mission. All the platoons are shown in full gear, tanks and support vehicles roaming around while the player is with his squad. It often helps to show the player is not the only one around to complete the mission. Sometimes missions generate this feeling, that atmosphere, try to prevent it if it doesn't fit into your story.
Life is dynamic, so should a mission be. It sure is one of the harder parts of editing, but can be a rewarding element if you build it into your mission. Little ruins the atmosphere as much as empty towns or static military bases do. Try to populate cities with walking civilians, maybe even civilians that can interact with the player. Let them talk and give advice or have them hinder or injure the player. Make them part of the mission, which makes a town come to life and that helps the ambience by a lot. Especially in undercover missions this is important, as you are highly vulnerable if the civilian populace starts to hate the main character. But if you add one such script, be sure that it is robust. Capable of taking care of a player's intervention. He should be able to steal a car, or kill a civilian without disturbing the script or popping up an error message. If one comes up, it surely won't improve the atmosphere by a lot. Best is to have a script capable of making civilians respond to the player's action.
It makes the player appreciate the freedom he is handed, freedom is certainly one of the most important aspects of ArmA and OFP. Try to let the player decide upon his route, don't severely limit his movement by having off bounds areas. If you do, make them realistic - a minefield helps, but it might be possible to get rid of by doing something like interacting with a civilian who hands out the coordinates of a hidden path.
Next to a lot of do's, there are some dont's. A lot of these tend to be caused by the AI handicaps. One of the most frustrating problems is an objective that won't tick off. Often due to the last loon problem, caused by a trigger that waits for one side not present while there is one soldiers still hiding. After a long lasting battle in one of the capitals this sure is a spoiler, there is no fun in spending 10 minutes to find the last soldier if he has no chance of victory. This is one of the problems that causes a good mission atmosphere to vanish. With it you almost guarantee that no-one will replay your mission, so that measures to prevent the last loon problem.
Then there are the AI battle routine problems, them getting stuck in positions, waiting to get killed or retreating in the weirdest of circumstances. Multiple AI scripts are present in the community that could help improve the AI and thereby prevent the atmosphere being lowered by such AI errors. Place waypoints at open positions, use scripts to improve AI responsiveness and prevent them from retreating in odd situations. Don't let the AI do something they usually have problems with it.
Lastly, a mission is to be considered as realistic, ensure that it is realistic. Try to spend time on doing research, there isn't much realism in writing that two divisions will be used while you really only use 30 men. Of course many more realism connected issues are present, like using wrong vehicles, wrong units for a particular task or more common and frustrating errors such as the use of too much tanks that makes no sense at all. If you keep on the lookout for these issues, a mission could be so much better.
While this article surely will not have covered all concerning a mission's atmosphere - it should help improving many missions published by the ArmA and OFP communities. After reading this article your mission could be generally more accepted, but atmosphere alone is nothing without proper gameplay and other elements that make up a mission. More articles will follow to cover various aspects of editing, hopefully making you a better editor. Keep in mind that both OFP and ArmA mission editors face the same challenges concerning the atmosphere, so be kind and lend one another a hand where needed. Happy editing!
Zombie Outbreak Simulation, OFP mission by Trapper. Features: Good atmosphere in unrealistic mission of high quality.
O-Team, ArmA mission by LCD. Features: RPG style conversations. Great for improving the personal aspects of a mission.
Make ArmA more Gamey, forum discussion. Features: Some discussion about atmosphere elements in a mission.